Game 84: NYY vs. MIN — A Twin Cities win

Before the trip to Minneapolis, the Yankees made a couple of roster adjustments. Recent struggles sent Yangervis Solarte back to AAA Scranton. In his place, they signed Zelous Wheeler from AAA Scranton. To make room on the 40-man, they have designated Dean Anna for assignment. Now, all you Solarte fans (like my mom), don’t worry. A lot of rookies get sent back to AAA to work on the things they need to in order to come back stronger and better. Even non-rookies sometimes get that treatment when they’ve slipped into bad habits. I don’t think there’s one current starter that didn’t get sent back at one point early in their career. But don’t worry, Wheeler has already proved he’s MLB-level worthy (more below). And I know Anna will land on his feet somewhere.

Anyway, the Yankees faced a former teammate in tonight’s game against the Twins, one of the Twins’ more solid starters this year — Phil Hughes. But unlucky for the Twins, they faced one of the Yankees’ more solid starters — Masahiro Tanaka. And even though Tanaka wasn’t a flawless in his outing tonight, it was strong enough to give him the win and put him in the lead over all other starters with 12 total wins so far this season. That’s right, Tanaka now leads all of Major League Baseball in wins, and his numbers mean he could win 20 or more games his rookie year.

So tonight, over 7 innings, Tanaka threw just 85 pitches, giving up 9 hits and 4 runs, striking out just 3 batters. He managed to spread those runs scored out. In the 1st, with a runner on base, a double scored the runner before the batter that hit the double ended up getting caught in a rundown trying to get to 3rd. In the 3rd and the 6th, it was ground outs that scored a run per inning. And an RBI single in the 7th to push in the fourth and final Twins run.

It took the Yankees until the 5th inning to cross the plate themselves. In the 5th, Teixeira and McCann each single to get on base and then scored on Carlos Beltran’s sweet 3-run home run. Two batters later, in his second Major League at-bat, Wheeler smacks his first career home run, a nice solo shot into the Yankees’ bullpen. (I imagine that the same mother in Alabama who screamed when she found out he was called up was screaming as he rounded the bases with a grin as wide as Alabama plastered across his face.)

Then the Yankees decided to hit the Twins hard with another high-scoring inning in the 7th. Ichiro walked, Wheeler singled (and his mother screamed again), and Brendan Ryan doubled and scored Ichiro, which triggered a Twins pitching change. Brett Gardner’s single scored Wheeler (another Alabama scream), and Derek Jeter’s ground out (the first out of that inning) scored Ryan.

By the time, it was time to send in Dellin Betances in the 8th inning, the Yankees were up 7-4 over the Twins, so all the Yankees bullpen had to do was keep the score planted there. And they did. Betances threw a quick 14 pitch 1-2-3 8th inning. And then David Robertson claimed his 19th save of 2014, striking out 3 batters in his 9th inning. And they won.

As I write this, I can hear the echoes of fireworks from nearby celebrations starting early. And the Yankees will be on the road until after the All-Star Game in 12 days right there in Target Field. They took their first of a 4-game series against Minnesota tonight, before heading to another Great Lake state to play 4 games against Cleveland, and then back on the Eastern Seaboard for a 3-game weekend series against Baltimore. It’s a long road trip, but it will be interesting to see if the Yankees can use this trip to get back on the winning side of things.

After tonight’s win, the Yankees now sit at 42 wins-42 losses, or .500 average, currently 3.5 games behind Baltimore and Toronto (who are both struggling as of late). Now’s the time to make up for June struggles, gentlemen.

Also, to all those on the East Coast, stay safe during the storm.

Go Yankees!

 

Spring Game 29: TOR vs. NYY — Win streak snapped

Well, the winning streak is over at 7 games, snapped in today’s loss to Toronto. Today was actually a mix of super hot sunny between very cloudy skies (complete with about 20 seconds of rain sprinkles).

Michael Pineda seems to have had a bit of an off-day, after some rather flawless outings this Spring, but when he was on, he was great. He got into some trouble in the 2nd inning. A throwing error by 3rd baseman Nunez allowed the lead-off runner to get on base and then Pineda allowed back-to-back singles that scored a run. Fortunately, after loading the bases with only one out, the Jeter-Teixeira infield grabbed a slick double play to get Pineda out of the inning. (Have I mentioned today how much I missed those guys last year?)

Then in the 5th, Pineda allowed back-to-back singles, and then on a sacrifice bunt, Pineda’s throwing error (a very high toss to 1st base) scored another Toronto run. A wild pitch scored the third and final Toronto run. And the Blue Jays were up 3-0 going into the 6th inning. Pineda wasn’t going to win today’s game, overall giving up 6 hits and 3 runs (only 2 earned), and getting just 2 strikeouts. A common issue I see with young, eager pitchers is that they don’t trust their infield. We saw it a little with Tanaka yesterday, but he was able to be lifted up by the offense taking advantage of the weakness in the pitching staff. Pineda wasn’t so lucky due to the Blue Jays bringing their stellar pitching staff across the bay to Tampa today.

But the Yankees weren’t without their own set of offensive efforts today. It was only in the 6th that the Yankees finally got on the board. Ichiro Suzuki hit a lead-off ground-rule double (without the wind, it would have been a really nice home run). Gardner singled. Derek Jeter grounded into a doubled play but still scored Ichiro. So the score was planted at 3-1 Toronto.

The Yankees relief kept the Blue Jays from adding to their score via Leroux, Cabral, and Betances (for the 7th); Burawa in the 8th, and Miller in the 9th. The Yankees just couldn’t overcome the Toronto’s pitching staff, though they made a nice dent in their stats with 8 hits and a walk. In other words, they could get on base but not do much beyond that.

Now, defensively (with the 2 exceptions already mentioned), the Yankees were rather amazing. Brian McCann caught a high foul ball behind the plate in the 6th. And then there was Zelous Wheeler in the 8th inning, with two virtual snags out of the air at 2nd base.

And that makes Wheeler my one to watch today. Wheeler has been consistently good through all of Spring, and today’s defensive show was just the latest chapter of the Spring Wheeler Show. When the final roster is announced this coming weekend, I look forward to seeing where everyone lands, but I’ll be particularly interested in a handful of guys on the extended roster that could play a key role in this year’s team at various times during the season. And I do believe Wheeler will be among them. I guess part of me also wants to imagine what the Bleacher Creatures might do to Wheeler’s name (something along the lines of “Zel-ous-Whee-ler” clap-clap-clapclapclap).

At any rate, it’s going to be a very interesting year…

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 28: NYY vs. MIN — A replay, a save, and a streak

Today’s game at the Twins’ Spring home felt like a game we might see come this regular season. It wasn’t just pitching or hitting, but rather a combination of all of them for both team trying to claw their way to the win. Fortunately, for Yankee fans, it came out the way we’re always hoping, and today’s win pushed their winning streak up to 7-in-a-row.

Masahiro Tanaka got a chance to pitch to another AL team (note: Girardi has scheduled his outings so that they never coincide with AL East, keeping his pitching at least with a small element of surprise). Tanaka went just 5.2 innings, book-ending his outing with a total of 3 allowed runs, but just 5 hits and a walk, and 6 strikeouts. In the 1st, he allowed a lead-off double to score on a ground out, putting the Twins up 1-0 for a few innings. And then in the 6th, he really seemed to lose some steam, allowing a single, a hit-by-pitch, RBI double, and RBI groundout. So Lewis came on to get that last out of that inning. Tanaka will probably develop into a tighter pitcher as he learns how good of an infield the regular starters can be, something that Andy Pettitte really came to rely on.

Meanwhile, the Yankees fell into a scoring pattern beginning in the 4th inning. With 1 out, Eduardo Nunez singled, Kelly Johnson singled, and Francisco Cervelli got hit by a pitch to load the bases. On a wild pitch, Nunez scored the first Yankee run, which Scott Sizemore added to with his 2-run single. Sizemore ended up scoring on Zelous Wheeler’s double.

Going into the 7th, the Yankees were ahead 4-3, so before even knowing that they needed an insurance run, they got one. Zoilo Almonte doubled and scored on Herrara’s single later in the inning. So Herndon and Greene took the 7th and 8th for the Yankees, ensuring the Yankee lead remained. That left the 9th and the save opportunity for Yoshinori Tateyama, and except for a solo home run, shut down any real hope of a Twins’ last minute rally. So the Yankees won 5-4.

 

And we finally got some good “instant replay” action. In the 3rd, the Twins tried to steal 2nd, something Cervelli saw and threw to a waiting Dean Anna at 2nd who swept down and applied the tag. But the umpire initially called him safe, Girardi decided to test the system. And boy, did it pay off. After a quick review, they heard what anyone with eyes on the screen at home saw — the runner was out. (Warning: the media covering the game are Twins-based, so they don’t really understand why or how the runner was out. So much for unbiased media!)

Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I really don’t miss the screaming managers. I was a little concerned about how the replay thing worked in a real game, and honestly, I’m still a little confused on the exact rules of how managers can use their “challenges”. But I’m already liking the transition. I know it won’t always go the Yankee way, but I think it’s going to clear up a lot of the “close calls” that fans argue over for years and years.

I mean, how many people still argue over the Yogi Berra-Jackie Robinson play at home in the 1955 World Series? Every team has a story that instant replay could clear up. And while they might be so ingrained in fans’ psyches that you couldn’t ever imagine a world without them, there’s still a lot of other things for fans to argue about with their rivals. Legacies, championships, history, and favorite players top the list and none of those could ever be affected by instant replay.

(For the record, Robinson was out; sorry, Dodger fans.)

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 27: PIT vs. NYY — Sabathia shut-out

Prior to today’s game against the Pirates, the Yankees awarded the 2013 Minor League Pitcher and Player Awards to pitcher Shane Greene (A-Tampa and AA-Trenton) and infielder Greg Bird (A-Charleston). Plus, pirates (coincidentally, perhaps) from the local Gasparilla Festival (a big party and tradition here in Tampa) sang the national anthem. Then, Dan Marino threw out the first pitch to Jorge Posada, and then he threw out the first football. Literally, he threw a baseball and then a football to Posada. And let me tell you, it was very obvious which one the former QB was more comfortable with.

And the CC Sabathia took the mound and never let up. For seven innings, Sabathia and a slew of great plays by the team kept the Bucks scoreless. He allowed just 4 hits and a walk, striking out 7 Pirates (not the singing kind). Matt Thornton and Shawn Kelley split the 8th inning, keeping Sabathia’s win intact. And presumed closer David Robertson came on in the 9th to ensure both Sabathia’s win and his job as Rivera’s successor.

And the Yankees only had a bit of success off the Pirates’ pitchers; well, one and only at the beginning. But that was enough to deliver another well-earned win for Sabathia. In the 1st, with 2 outs (and a couple of fouled-off balls off Jeter’s previously injured left ankle, he’s just bruised), Carlos Beltran singled, Mark Teixeira walked, and Brian McCann doubled, scoring Beltran. Teixeira would then score on a wild pitch. So the Yankees were quickly up 2-0.

In the 2nd, Kelly Johnson walked, Brian Roberts singled, and Ichiro Suzuki singled to load the bases. Brett Gardner’s force out on Ichiro at 2nd (they can’t make the double play for Gardner at 1st) still scores Johnson. Derek Jeter’s ground out scores Roberts and plants the Yankees firmly at what would end up their final score 4-0 over the Pirates. There were other opportunities throughout the night for the Yankees to add to their score, but the Pirates’ pitchers are still pretty good, despite the initial early scoring by the Yankees, and kept the Yankees from doing any further damage.

I think tonight was the first game where I’ve finally seen what the Yankees are going to look like for 2014. I imagine the starting lineup to be rather similar to what we will find come Opening Day (with a few minor exceptions). And I’m guessing that this is the team that’s going to function as such all the way through the season. And I’m already really liking what I’m seeing. Johnson is really pretty spectacular at 3rd (despite a fielding error, or rather a ball bobble). Roberts is beginning to display the kind of well-rounded player-ness that made him the face of the Orioles for so long. And McCann is proving himself as a pretty great catcher, complete with 2 very successful outs at 2nd base, on a great strikeout-caught stealing double play twice (in the 1st and in the 3rd).

But that isn’t where the Yankees’ strength ends. No, the guys they send in toward the end of the game, the 40-man guys (or those trying to get on the 40-man) are also rather sharp. I really like watching players like Zelous Wheeler, Yangervis Solarte, and Antoan Richardson, just to name a few. The 48 players left in camp, to be whittled down to the “magical 40” in a week, are all really good, from the veteran players (like Teixeira) to the bench guys (like Cervelli) to the 40-man (like Solarte) to what will end up on the farm (like Russ Canzler). And honestly, it’s an honor to watch them in action.

Ones to watch: Wheeler, Solarte, and Richardson. All three made crucial plays in the latter part of the game, and all three have been rather consistent on both sides of the diamond. Some days, it’s really hard to pick someone for this category, and some days, it’s hard not to pick more than three. Perhaps what would have been easier to do would be to pick someone “not to watch”, but that would defeat the purpose of a positive blog. Easier? Perhaps. Better? Not a chance. And so much like in life, better is always worth the extra effort, especially if the pay-off is positive, encouraging, and uplifting.

Kind of like how I’m feeling about the Yankees and their potential for 2014 right now… and that’s something I can live with.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 25: NYY vs. ATL — A SuperNova shutout

Ivan Nova came into camp this year as the presumed 4th starter, but he was quick to correct that sentiment, saying that spot should be earned by him. When I think of the rollercoaster year he had last year (sent down to AAA at the beginning, slowly brought back, and then burst forth with gusto), I think that was the proper sentiment and approach for this year. After all, if he wasn’t ready for a starter’s job come this April, it really should go to someone else. After today’s outing, I’m guessing that possibility of demotion is out the window and Nova is more than just “penciled in” for that 4th spot. I imagine it’s more like etched in stone.

The Braves play at Disney. And while you might expect everything to be Mickey Mouse and happy feelings, the Braves certainly weren’t the feeling like their Spring home was the “happiest place on earth” today. No, not with Nova on the mound for 6.1 innings, throwing heat and striking out 5 of their batters, only allowing 2 hits. Burawa, Greene, Cabral, and Betances each took 2 outs a piece to finish out the game and award Nova the win for today because not one Braves player ever crossed the plate for a score. Not that the Yankees had that much better luck off the Braves pitching; they just knew how to find the holes and weaknesses and capitalize on them like only the Yankees can. And they were patient enough to earn 11 walks off their pitchers. (More on that later.)

Right in the 1st inning, Brett Gardner walks, steals 2nd, advances to 3rd on Jeter’s fly out, and then scores on Carlos Beltran’s single. (1-0 Yankees) In the 4th, with 2 outs, Brian Roberts singles, Kelly Johnson walks, and they both score on Adonis Garcia’s solid double. (3-0 Yankees) In the 7th, things got complex (as baseball tends to do), Gil (pinch-run by Richardson) walks; Gardner walks; Jeter grounds into a force out, Gardner out at 2nd, Solarte in for Jeter at 1st, and Richardson now at 3rd; Beltran singles in Richardson; McCann grounds into a force out to score Solarte, Beltran out at 2nd, McCann is safe at 1st on a throwing error when they went for the double play. (5-0 Yankees) And in the 9th, Solarte, Romine, and Stevenson each walk to load the bases; then Dean Anna and Zelous Wheeler each walk and therefore each walk in a run. (Final score: 7-0 Yankees)

Here’s the thing about all these walks: they don’t make sense from the usually strong Braves pitching. I think back to the game on Sunday at Steinbrenner Field, and some of the radar guns were measuring mid- to upper-90s, and they were rather sharp in their pitching. I mean, I don’t think we were watching the next Glavine or Maddux, but they were pretty spectacular for Spring games. And while I can understand 3 or 4 walks per game, 11 is over the top, especially in that last inning where both runs were unfabulously walked-in, something I’ve made clear before is my least favorite way to score runs. I guess, we all have our off-days, but perhaps I’m just holding onto an old hope — a Braves-Yankees rematch in the Series.

Well, it’s still a long season to play, and like life, anything can happen.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 24: BOS vs. NYY — And the Red Sox went buzzing away

Michael Pineda certainly continues to remain a contender for that #5 rotation spot. And against last year’s champions and the Yankees long-term rivals, the pressure was on, but he really came through rather marvelously. In his 4.1 innings, he allowed just 4 hits from the Red Sox batters and threw 5 strikeouts over his 60 pitches (45 were strikes).

And to have Pineda walk off with today’s win, the Yankees bats came alive, quickly and frequently. Right in the 1st inning, Brett Gardner got a lead-off single, advanced to 2nd on a passed ball, and scored on Alfonso Soriano’s single. Then in the 2nd, the Yankees really took it to the Red Sox starter. Brian Roberts singled, Johnson walked, Ichiro Suzuki singled Roberts home, Gardner bunted a single to load the bases, Derek Jeter singled home Johnson keeping the bases loaded, and Mark Teixeira singled home both Ichiro and Gardner. Suddenly, the Yankees were up 5-0. In the 4th, with 2 outs, Carlos Beltran doubled, Teixeira walked, and then Soriano smacked a very long, very hard 3-run home run to put the Yankees up 8-0. And there they sat for a bit.

David Robertson replaced Pineda in the 5th for the last 2 outs, continuing his Houdini magic. Shawn Kelley took the 6th for a quick 3 innings. Then David Herndon came on for the 7th and got into a bit of trouble, a lead-off double scored the Red Sox’s only run, planting the score at 8-1 Yankees. Lewis and Daley took the 8th and 9th, respectively, delivering the Yankees (and Pineda) the win for today’s game.

But the real event of the day happened at the bottom of the 3rd inning. The Red Sox took the field, and Francisco Cervelli walked up to the batter’s box. But out in left field, the Red Sox left fielder came jogging from his spot, signaling to the 2nd base umpire that something was wrong, motioning toward the fence by the foul pole. At first, word was circulating through the crowd about a snake, but that was quickly cleared up by people getting texts from people watching the game on TV and the stadium announcer. It was bees — very angry, very agitated, very swarming bees.

The grounds crew came up with anti-bee spray and sprayed down the entire area (the visitors’ bullpen and the entire fence down to the foul pole). This was a better option than Teixeira’s idea — from the clubhouse, he produced two bottles of honey. (It should be noted that Teixeira’s alma mater was Georgia Tech, and their mascot are the “Yellow Jackets”.) And the score of bee-related puns began buzzing through Twitter and flew through the stands (that’s my addition). Of course, this brought to mind the 2007 ALDS game (against the Indians), affectionately known as the “midges game“. Oh, and when it was all cleared and they got back to the game, Cervelli promptly hit a very solid triple.

And while most of the action was clearly in the first third of the game, the replacement guys certainly kept that nice lead intact. Three great defenders today in the last third of the game were Dean Anna, Zelous Wheeler, and Zoilo Almonte. All three really hustled, slide, twirled, and showed off why they all deserve to keep their spots on the 40-man roster.

Today’s game might have been an off-day for the Red Sox, but I don’t see the same Red Sox of 2013 that won the Series. I know they’ve restructured their team, and some of their larger names didn’t make the trip to Tampa. But usually, there’s at least a shadow of something to come. I’ve been watching the pre-season very carefully, and I already feel like I have a pretty good feel as to who we’ll be seeing come October. And the Red Sox, as they played today, aren’t there. Well, they’re nowhere near the 2012 Red Sox, but seriously fall short of the 2013 team. The AL East is one of the toughest divisions in MLB, and usually they’re a pretty tight top-4 competition (as one team usually falls very short).

But then again, you just never know… I mean, there were bees in Steinbrenner Field today. Weirder things have happened.

Go Yankees!

Spring Games 21 & 22: ATL vs. NYY & NYY vs. MIA — Winning internationally is also an art

Well, today essentially erased yesterday’s losses in one fell swoop. 7 would be the Yankees “lucky number” on this St. Patrick’s Day weekend, as both in Tampa and in Panama, the Yankees split-squad each scored 7 total runs. And while the players are busy crossing international waters to head back to regular Spring Training, we take a moment to pause and consider the offensive victories of this Sunday.

In Tampa, on this very sunny, very hot, sometimes breezy afternoon, it was Masahiro Tanaka’s start today. And though he still managed to be fairly good, he still had some struggles and was not his usual “Tanaka-ness”. Over 4.1 innings, he allowed 3 hits, 1 run, and 2 walks, while striking out 6 Braves batters. But it still wasn’t until the 4th inning that the Braves managed to find a hole in Tanaka’s pitching, when a walk scored on a double to tie up the game. Backing up to the 2nd inning, Ramon Flores singled to lead-off the inning and scores later in the inning on Ichiro Suzuki’s single.

Going into the 5th inning, after Tanaka struck out a batter, he was replaced by Matt Thornton who struggled a bit, allowing a double, and an RBI single before getting those last two outs. Thornton, despite allowing the Braves to jump ahead, was technically the pitcher on record when the Yankees jumped ahead in what ended up being a gift-wrapped inning from the Braves.

Ichiro and Eduardo Nunez each walked and scored on Brian McCann’s double. Kelly Johnson singles, then Flores scores McCann’s pinch-runner. O’Brien walks to load the bases. A wild pitch scores Johnson and advances Flores and O’Brien. Mason Williams’ sacrifice fly easily scores Flores, as O’Brien lands on 3rd on a throwing error. Castillo reaches on another error, which allowed O’Brien to score. Suddenly, the Yankees are up 7-2 by the end of a very long half-inning.

Shawn Kelley dazzled in the 6th, complete with 2 strikeouts and no hits allowed. Shane Greene took the 7th and 8th, and only gave up a single hit, a solo home run; Greene struck out 4 batters. It was Dellin Betances’ turn for the 9th, and he wasn’t as sharp as he usually is, allowing a walk, a hit by pitch, and a single to load the bases with one out, so a ground out could score a fourth and final run for the Braves. Betances got that final out with a signature strikeout, and the Yankees were gifted with a 7-4 win in Tampa today.

Meanwhile, only an hour behind their Tampa crew, the rest of the Yankees played their second game against the Marlins in the exhibition series in Panama. Last night, they were hitless, and today, they more than made up for that off-night. CC Sabathia took the mound and proved once again why he’s the cornerstone of their starting rotation, with 5 hitless, scoreless innings and 5 strikeouts. Robertson took the 6th, Claiborne the 7th (allowing the only hit the Marlins would get all day), before Cabral and Leroux polished off the 8th and 9th, handing the Yankees their second victory of the day.

Well, of course, in order for their to be a victory, there has to be some hits and runs on the other side of the field. And there certainly was, beginning in the 2nd inning. Francisco Cervelli and Yangervis Solarte each singled, before Cervelli scored on Zelous Wheeler’s ground-rule double. In the 5th, Corban Joseph doubled, Jeter walked, Carlos Beltran singled home Joseph, Cervelli singled Jeter home, and Solarte’s single brought Beltran and Cervelli to punch the score up to 5-0 Yankees.

So in the 9th, the Yankees wanted to secure their win, so they added 2 more runs. Antoan Richardson singled and then scored as Gary Sanchez homered out to right field. And the Yankees flew away from Panama with a one-hitter shut-out win against the Marlins, winning 7-0. So in total, the Yankees had 15 total hits in Panama and 7 total runs, all in today’s game (plus 12 hits and 7 runs in the game in Tampa). Today was the Yankees being the Yankees, hitting, scoring, and finding the holes in their opponents’ game.

Ones to watch (having only watched the Tampa game, I’m limited to those I saw): Ramon Flores and Shane Greene. Flores may be my personal favorite player to watch this Spring, and he continues to prove he’s worth watching with his Granderson-like defense in the outfield and his consistency in the batter’s box. Greene has had his ups and downs, but he was pretty great to watch today, and except for the random solo home run, he threw 4 strikeouts in just 2 innings.

I have to point out two regular players that have been outstanding, especially in today’s game — Mark Teixeira and Francisco Cervelli. Teixeira had an absolutely amazing outing on defense at 1st base today, something that reminds me of pre-injured Teixeira days. Cervelli clearly has one of the highest batting averages of the Spring and continues to prove his mettle as an ardent defender at the plate. The Yankees are coming off strong this Spring, and that’s a really good sign.

Go Yankees!